The Village is a 2004 film written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan that explores the dynamics of an insular turn-of-the-20th-century village and the collective fears of its members. The movie was shot in recreation of a 19th-century village outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, following Shyamalan's penchant for staging his films near his hometown. Like most of Shyamalan's films, its plot is built around a twist ending. The movie opened to mostly negative reviews and was not as financially successful as some of Shyamalan's earlier movies.
After the funeral, Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) asks the village elders for permission to pass through the woods to get medical supplies from "the towns". His request is denied and, later, he is admonished by his mother, Alice (Sigourney Weaver), for wanting to go to the towns, which the villagers describe as "wicked places where wicked people live". It is revealed in that scene that the Elders seem to keep dark secrets of their own in the form of black boxes, the contents of which they keep hidden from their own offspring. After Lucius makes a short venture into the woods, the creatures leave warnings around the village in the form of splashes of red paint (referred by the villagers only as "the bad color") on all the villagers' doors.
Meanwhile, Ivy Elizabeth Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard), the blind daughter of the chief Elder, Edward Walker (William Hurt), informs Lucius that she has strong feelings for him, and he returns her affections. They arrange to be married, but things go horribly wrong when Noah Percy (Adrien Brody), a mentally retarded "village idiot" who is enamored of Ivy, stabs Lucius.
Edward goes against the wishes of the other Elders, agreeing to allow Ivy to pass through the forest and seek out medicine for Lucius. Before she leaves, the first plot twist is revealed when Edward explains the secret of the creatures they are fabrications created by the Elders in an attempt to keep any of their children from leaving the village. He does mention, however, that he had heard rumors of "real creatures" living in the woods.
While Ivy is traveling through the forest, one of the beasts suddenly attacks her. She tricks it into falling into a deep hole to its death. It is then that the second plot twist is revealed — the creature is actually Noah in a costume that he had found under the floor of the room he had been locked in. It is implied in that scene that it was Noah who had been skinning the animals all along.
Ivy eventually finds her way to the edge of the woods, where she encounters a large wall. After she climbs over the wall the final plot twist is revealed: the film is set in the present day (a newspaper in one scene shows July 30, 2004, the date of the film's release). A park ranger driving a Land Rover with the words "Walker Wildlife Preserve" on the side spots Ivy and is shocked to hear that she has come out of the woods. He then learns that Ivy's last name is "Walker".
The ranger retrieves medicine from a ranger station and Ivy returns to the village. This sequence is intercut with brief segments showing the Elders opening their black boxes, which are revealed to contain mementos from their lives in the outside world, including one or more items related to their past traumas. The film ends with a scene in a cabin where all the Elders are sitting around Lucius' beds. In that scene Edward points out that Noah's death will allow them to continue deceiving the rest of the villagers that there are "creatures" in the woods and all the Elders take a vote to continue living in the village. The film ends with Ivy arriving and saying, "I'm back, Lucius".
It is revealed that the village was actually founded some time in the late 1970s, when Edward Walker, professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania, approached other people he met at a grief counseling clinic after his father had been murdered. He asked them if they wished to join him in "an idea" he had. From this apparently grew "the village", a secluded town in the middle of a wildlife preserve purchased with Edward's family fortune, a place where they would be protected from any aspect of the outside world (the head ranger named "Jay" in the ranger station, played by Shyamalan seen reflected in a glass door, fills in several plot points; the Walker estate pays to maintain the ranger corps, the rangers makes sure no one goes into the wildlife preserve to "disturb the animal(s)", the Walker estate "paid off" the government to keep the entire wildlife preserve a "no-fly zone"). Once the village was created, it appears the original "Elders" rolled the clock back to the late 19th century to what they thought was a simpler, more peaceful time.
The film was originally titled The Woods, but the name was changed because a film directed by Lucky McKee, The Woods, already had that title. Like other Shyamalan productions, this film had high levels of secrecy surrounding it, needed to protect the expected twist ending that was a known Shyamalan trademark. Despite that, the script was stolen over a year before the film was released, prompting many "pre-reviews" of the film on several Internet film sites and much fan speculation about plot details. The village seen in the film was built in its entirety in one field outside Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (39°50'27.64"N, 75°36'26.56"W). Another field contained an on-location temporary sound stage.
Production on the film started in October 2003, with delays because some scenes needing fall foliage could not be shot because of a late fall season. Principal photography was wrapped up in mid December of that year. In April and May 2004, several of the lead actors were called back to the set. Reports noted that this seemed to have something to do with a change to the film's ending, and, in fact, the film's final ending differs from the ending in a stolen version of the script that surfaced a year earlier.
The movie received mostly negative reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film one star and wrote: "The Village is a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn ... To call the ending an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It was all a dream. It's so witless, in fact, that when we do discover the secret, we want to rewind the film so we don't know the secret anymore." There were also comments that the film, while raising questions about conformity in a time of "evil", did little to "confront" those themes. Slate's Michael Agger commented that Shyamalan was continuing in a pattern of making "sealed-off movies that fell apart when exposed to outside logic.
The movie did have a number of admirers. Critic Jeffrey Westhoff commented that though the film had its shortcomings, these did not necessarily render it a bad movie, and that "Shyamalan's orchestration of mood and terror is as adroit as ever". Philip Horne of the Daily Telegraph in a later review noted "this exquisitely crafted allegory of American soul-searching seems to have been widely misunderstood".
The film also was noted for Howard's performance as Ivy Walker. The soundtrack by Newton-Howard has also been widely praised, and was nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the Best Film Scores.
Simon & Schuster, publishers of the 1995 young adult's book Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, claimed that the film had stolen ideas from the book. The book had a plot which features a village whose inhabitants pretend to be living in the 1830s when the year is actually 1996. The plot of Shyamalan's movie had several similarities to the book. They both involve an 1800s village which is actually a park in the present day, have young heroines on a search for medical supplies, and both have adult leaders bent on keeping the children in their village from discovering the truth.
Despite the bad reviews and a rapidly falling off box office the film ended up pulling in a modest $114 million, although when compared to its $71.6-million production cost and $40-million advertising campaign it probably did not make a profit on its opening run. It went on to collect another $140 million worldwide.
As is usual in his films, Shyamalan is seen in a brief cameo. In one of the final scenes, his voice is heard for a time and his reflection can be seen.
|Bryce Dallas Howard||Ivy Elizabeth Walker|
|Joaquin Phoenix||Lucius Hunt|
|Adrien Brody||Noah Percy|
|William Hurt||Edward Walker|
|Sigourney Weaver||Alice Hunt|
|Brendan Gleeson||August Nicholson|
|Cherry Jones||Mrs. Clack|
|Celia Weston||Vivian Percy|
|Jayne Atkinson||Tabitha Walker|
|Judy Greer||Kitty Walker|
|Fran Kranz||Christop Crane|